There is now absolutely no doubt that any device running a version of Android earlier than the tablet specific version 3 is behind the times. There’s one reason you might want a non Android 3 (Honeycomb) tablet – and this is that the Android Market does not contain many Honeycomb specific apps yet.
But with many Android 2.x tablets not offering the full market, you need to choose carefully. At least by choosing Android 3 you are future proofing yourself against the time when more apps are optimised for the OS. And of course Android 3 itself is designed for the tablet format.
That’s why there are so many Android 3.0 tablets either already available or announced as forthcoming. Acer has been fairly quick off the mark with its Iconia Tab A500, and it comes in two versions. Their only differentiator is built in storage.
You can add more memory via a microSD card, and the slot is under a plastic flap on the upper long edge of the chassis. The flap also protects a SIM card slot, though sadly the Acer Iconia Tab A500 does not have SIM card support. A second version, the Iconia Tab A501 is listed at the Acer web site and this does have a 3G module built in.
The remaining specifications are solid. The processor is an NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual core A9 – the same processor as found in Asus’s superb Eee Pad Transformer. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are present as is GPS and there is a 5 megapixel camera with LED flash on the back of the chassis, a smaller 2 megapixel camera on the left side of the screen.
Of course the screen rotates as you turn the tablet in your hands, and the screen measures 10.1 inches and delivers 1280 x 800 pixels. It has good viewing angles but we don’t think it is quite as bright as the screen of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, and it is very, very reflective which makes using it in some lighting conditions a challenge. And of course, the screen is easily greased up with fingerprints.
The Acer Iconia Tab A500 is slightly chunky and a little bit heavy, its 700g becoming unwieldy after a half hour or so of holding in one hand. That plastic flap we mentioned earlier rather lets down the chassis design which is pretty stylish. The screen bezel is the usual black, but the top and bottom long edges are faced with a metal look panel which joins on to an aluminium backplate. The joins are obvious and do detract a little from the sleek lines, but the overall effect is neat.
Side buttons and connectors run to a backlit power switch, 3.5mm headset jack and mini HDMI port on the short left edge, small round main power connector, microUSB and full sized USB for peripherals on the right edge and a proprietary dock connector on the long bottom edge. The long top edge has a volume rocker and a screen rotation lock switch. The USB port seems to have some issues at present. It recognised a USB stick, but was not happy with a mouse we tried. Unfortunately Acer does not bundle an HDMI cable.
The screen is very responsive and Android 3 is a pleasure to use. Nvidia has added an app store for games, but Acer’s bundled apps are a little uninspiring. SocialJogger brings Facebook and Twitter feeds together, and Photo Browser 3D lets you flick through images using the tablet’s motion sensors. There are several media viewing apps and a DLNA server too. But nothing took our breath away.